After years of planning, the Port of Columbia is poised to bring high-speed Internet to households in Dayton and surrounding Columbia County.
Once the network is complete, every household within the city limits of Dayton will have access to paid service by early 2023.
“We will be able to stretch about three miles from the city of Dayton to the outer parts of the city,” Port of Columbia executive director Jennie Dickinson said. “We’re a bit ahead of the game compared to other counties that are doing the same with broadband.”
According to Dickinson, 231,000 feet of fiber optic cable is expected to be delivered in July and will eventually be connected to utility poles in the area, providing broadband access to households.
The port has entered into an agreement with Pacific Corp. to use the utility poles and hired the company Zero dB to plan the construction.
Designs are expected to be ready by the end of July and construction companies will then start bidding on the project.
“Getting our fibers in July keeps us on schedule,” Dickinson said. “And after receiving a few offers, our goal is to start building the fiber lines by this fall.”
Dickinson hopes the project will be completed by late spring or early summer 2023 depending on how severe winter weather this year is, which could slow progress.
In July 2021, the Port of Columbia received a $2 million grant from the Community Economic Revitalization Board to begin construction of a fiber network for the community.
The grant depended on matching from the county and other local entities.
The Port of Columbia, City of Dayton and Columbia County have pooled resources to contribute $500,000, including $335,000 from Dayton’s federal COVID relief funds.
The port added $26,000 and Columbia County contributed $90,000, with Warren Community Fund and Sherwood Trust contributions of $15,000 and $20,000 respectively.
The total cost of the project was estimated at $2.5 million a year ago, but current supply chain issues and inflation could lead to a scaled-down approach to stay within budget.
The port will provide space in the Cameron Street Co-Working building in the Rock Hill Industrial Park which will serve as the central location for the fiber optic system.
The entire system will operate from a 12 x 12 room in the coworking building.
internet service providers
The two ISPs that have shown interest in taking the lead with broadband internet are Columbia iConnect and Emerge by Inland Cellular, Dickinson said.
The Port of Columbia will own the fiber optic network and the ISPs will provide the actual Internet service to the customer.
“It’s part of the partnership between the public and private sectors,” Dickinson said. “The port will own, operate and maintain the fiber optic network, and the service providers will provide the Internet services to the customer”
Each ISP will pay a $20 port charge for each household served by the ISP. The funds generated from the fees will be used to operate and maintain the network.
Columbia iConnect, Emerge by Inland Cellular and Century Link already provide wireless Internet service in Dayton using a signal tower.
However, the tower’s signals are unreliable for some Dayton residents as they may be blocked by other buildings, slowing the service or the signal.
“If you don’t live in the right place, you don’t get very good internet, if at all.” said Dickinson.
That’s not the case for fiber optics, according to Dickinson, who said “fiber is king” when it comes to download and upload speeds and overall reliability.
For businesses, slow internet affects productivity. They need faster internet speeds so they can grow and grow their business and also need it for e-commerce, Dickinson said.
Jay Ball, owner of Jay’s Garage in Dayton, said he spends a lot of time waiting for his Internet to handle day-to-day functions like processing bills or finding auto parts.
“Time is money, and information is key,” Ball said. “We are always online for information and when we sit around watching the little Internet wheel spin endlessly, it costs us money.”
Ball said he felt like his current internet was going 35 mph when he should be doing 100 on the same freeway.
“We’re trying to catch up with the rest of the world,” Ball said. “It is a public service in the same way as water or electricity. It’s a requirement for doing business these days. I really believe that, and we need investments in that.
And his comparison isn’t far off the mark for the speed and connectivity that broadband will bring.
Once the network is in place, download and upload speeds will be 100 to 1,000 times faster for Dayton residents than with wireless.
Health care and education
“We’re in a new digital environment and a new digital era,” Dickinson said. “It’s not just for business, but also for the future of health care and creating educational opportunities for young people.”
When the country shifted to remote school and work during the COVID-19 pandemic, many rural communities were left behind.
Without adequate internet services, some children were unable to learn remotely and people were limited in their job opportunities without the ability to work from home.
“As things change in the cyber world, fiber will continue to follow the changes coming in the digital age because fiber is limitless,” Dickinson said.
Dickinson said the port plans to further expand the internet throughout Columbia County to reach as many homes as possible.
The Dayton project is part of a larger plan by the State Broadband Office, which was created in 2019 to address gaps in high-quality internet access between urban and rural areas.
The SBO serves as the central broadband planning agency with the goal of providing affordable, high-speed Internet access to all Washingtonians.
Broadband is a high capacity transmission technique that allows many messages and signals to be communicated simultaneously over a fiber optic network.